How Much Was That Bucket Worth, John Niess?

The Obituary:

Lancaster Daily Intelligencer
Thursday, July 15, 1886

DEATH ON THE RAIL
An Old Man struck By a Locomotive and Killed at Mountville
John Neiss, a man aged seventy-seven, was struck and killed by extra engine west, No. 374, of the Pennsylvania railroad, at the east end of the village of Mountville, this forenoon.  The property on which the deceased lived is situated along and extended back to the deep cut through which the railroad passes.  Between 10 and 11 o’clock a. m. his wife sent him out to empty some potato parlings down the railroad embankment.  The bucket containing them fell out of his hand and rolled down upon the track.  He went after the vessel, and while standing on the track was struck by the engine.  He was not mangled, but died in less than a half hour after he was struck.  Coroner Honaman was notified, and he left this city at 2 o’clock for Mountville to hold an inquest.
The deceased had resided in Mountville for some years, and besides a wife leaves several grown children.  One of them, a daughter, lives at home.  Neiss was crippled in one of his arms and was a laborer.

The Story:

It took me 20 years to find a death date for my great-great-great grandfather’s death date. . . . and then I just stumbled across the obituary while looking for another obituary.

Elizabeth Niess, his wife died in June of 1905.  Her obituary stated “Her husband preceded her in death nineteen years ago.”  That was the only clue I had about his death.  Going through newspapers from 1886, page by page by page was not an option but it was something I was going to do “someday.”

Of course, “someday” never came.  There was always something else that was more important.  One of those was looking for an obituary for somebody else.  Thank goodness that obituary was in July of 1886!

I know it is John S. Niess’ obituary.  It is 19 years before his wife died, he lived in Mountville area and his oldest daughter, Mary Ann, never married and always lived at home.  He was a laborer according to census data, but I never heard about the crippled arm.  It matches my John S. Niess

After reading my ancestor’s obituary, several questions come to my mind.

  • How much was that bucket worth that he would give his life for it?
  • Didn’t he either see that train or hear it?
  • Why didn’t the obituary name his other children?  Nuts!
  • and why on earth didn’t it mention where he was buried?

Does it sound like I want it all?  You bet!

Don’t we all?

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 3:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ephraim H. Niess

The Obituary:

The Church Advocate, Harrisburg, PA.,
February 16, 1916
NIESS –Ephraim H. Niess was born October 21, 1841 and died November 25, 1915, aged 74 years, 1 month and 14 days.
Brother Niess was a faithful member and a loyal supporter of the Nagle Street Church of God, Harrisburg. His life for Christ was earnest and consistent. The church honored it. He was for a number of years an elder and the treasurer of the church. In 1862-63 he served in Company E., 122nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He was a member of Post 58 G.A.R., Harrisburg, and had attended the national encampment at Washington, D.C.  During the illness which caused his death he suffered intensely, and often expressed the desire to go home. Like Abraham, “he looked for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God.” The end came peacefully. God had led “through the valley and the shadow.” He is survived by his wife, three sons, a daughter, four brothers, two sisters and many relatives and friends.
The funeral services were conducted by Rev. G.R. Hoverter, assisted by Rev. Wm. N. Yates, Rev. Jay C. Forncrook, Rev. E. A. Mell and the pastor. Interment in the Harrisburg cemetery.

Albert L. Kriner

The Story:

Ephraim was my great-great-grandfather and there is a lot that is not said in this obituary.  I’ll attempt to tell just a little of it.

Ephraim H. Niess and Catharine L. Auxer Niess, 50th Anniversary, 1914

Ephraim H. Niess and Catharine L. Auxer Niess, 50th Anniversary, 1914

Ephraim and Catharine L. Auxer were married in May of 1864, a year after he was discharged from the service in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Their life was a struggle, but full of faith and the promise of a better life to come. They lost six children and four lived to have families of their own.

Although he was only 5’6″ his hard work supported his family.  What type of work did he do? Picture this:  Huge brick furnaces at an Iron Works.  Hot?  Well, somebody has to change the bricks inside of them when they start going, and Ephraim was the guy!  Since it was not efficient to let the coals burn out, they kept the coals going, and Ephraim would wear six layers of clothes, summer and/or winter, and enter the furnace to change the bricks!  Now whether the story is exaggerated a bit is unknown.  The “family legend” is in a letter my aunt had written as relayed by my great-grandfather, son of Ephraim.  I do know that he worked at Bailey Iron Works (when he would work) and would walk to work, so the story is plausible.

Ephraim did carry his demons.  Whether they were a result of the Civil War or whether they were a result of something else is unknown.  You see, there were no “Focus Groups” or “Therapy Sessions” for Civil War veterans, and Ephraim turned to the age old medication found in a bottle.  The 122nd had seen action at Chancellorsville, among other places, and perhaps he carried this with him.

His wife kept a journal in the late 1800’s and I have transcribed a copy of it.  Money was always a problem.  He lost his wallet with his pay in it, they were behind on their bills, Christmas was meager, etc., etc., etc.  The couple owned a farm “west of the River” and had a Farmer on it who brought them produce from it.  Ephraim is the man in the middle with Catharine standing next to him.  My great-grandfather is the oldest child in the picture.  I believe the young man in the picture may be his farmer.

During the years of journal keeping, his wife prayed constantly for her husband.  She wanted him to attend Church with her and get rid of “his devils,” so if the obituary above is accurate, it looks like her prayers were answered.

My favorite part of the obituary is the fact that he “had attended the national encampment at Washington, D.C.”  Why?  The Encampment had been held from September 27th to October 3rd and Ephraim while attending the Encampment was able to see his first great grandchild.  My father was born in Washington D.C. on September 4th of that very year!  I wish there had been a picture taken of this, and if one had been taken, I wish it had been saved!

Harrisburg Cemetery, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Cemetery, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania

Ephraim was laid to rest in the Harrisburg Cemetery, along with his six young children who did not get to enjoy more than a few months of life.  Catharine joined her husband in glory six years later.

Rest in Peace, Ephraim.  Your’s was not an easy life.

Published in: on October 24, 2008 at 12:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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